The Great Date Debate

January 27th, 2015

blog-great-date-debate
The Backblaze blog recently went through a lot of changes. We moved our service to the most up-to-date version of WordPress. We changed the design. We changed the layout. We added categories (Cloud Storage, Entrepreneurship, Backing Up, and Backblaze Bits) so that it would be easier to get to the types of articles that you wanted to read. Also, it was time for the blog to look more pretty!

Another big change was the date scheme on our blog. We got rid of it. Why? As the Marketing team started to focus more on generating good content for our followers and fans to read, we decided that it was time to make our blog posts more “evergreen”. Additionally, in our old blog environment the date was included in the URL, which was bad for web search results. Yes, we had delved into the deep, dark arts of SEO (search engine optimization).

The problems started when we would have to go back in time and look for a specific blog post that occurred on a very specific date. For example, if you go to Google and ask it to find you the articles about the Backblaze Storage Pods, it’ll give you a list of 4 blog posts on the topic. Unfortunately though, you wouldn’t know which ones are the most recent, as there are no dates associated with them in Google. We also had problems trying to find other articles, for example the ones about hard drive stats. We would search for them in Google and we’d get a lot of answers, though we wouldn’t know chronologically, which ones were the more timely ones. This led to great internal debates between the practical value and the SEO value of our blog.

This internal debate came to a head last week when we were featured as a top story on Hacker News, where we achieved as high as the 4th rank. While we were thrilled to get that much attention from some key individuals and knowledgeable folks, the main question and indeed the highest rated one was not about the hard drive stats that we produced, but was about the dates missing from our blog. A fine example by user mmastrac:

“Always love reading HDD reliability stats from Backblaze — but this demonstrates one of the reasons why post dating is so important, especially when the information in the post is time-sensitive. Nowhere on the page does it say that the post date is today, unless you click the “latest posts” tab by the author below.

I had originally though it was a repost of the many older articles from Backblaze until seeing a reference to Dec 31 2014. While not terribly ambiguous now, the ambiguity will only grow as the year marches on.

If someone from Backblaze happens to see this: you don’t need to put it in your URL, but please date your post near the top or bottom of the text.”

In my initial response I walked the party line:

“Yev from Backblaze here -> it’s an internal debate as to whether we should put dates on everything. It used to be that they were part of the URL (because of the way our blog was designed) but that is no longer the case. We decided to leave them off for a while to see if that made posts more “evergreen”, but we definitely see where it can lead to some confusion. We’ll keep chatting about it internally, there’s likely a good middle-ground.”

The reaction to me jumping in to the stream was lukewarm at best:

“Date of information is one of the most important contexts in IT. I can’t count the times somebody has said “This says this and that about such and such”, and I have to say “Yeah bro, when was that written? Oh, three years ago? What’s the story now?”.”

I waited for my marketing companions to get to the office and then called for an emergency meeting of the minds. While the SEO value of having the blog posts go undated was good, we decided that it was time to overrule our SEO overlords and bring the blog back to the people. We quickly made the change and I made the following announcement:

“BREAKING NEWS -> There are now dates on all of the individual blog posts. The landing page is “date-free” but is in chronological order, if you open a post, the date will be below the title…AS NATURE INTENDED!”

This was met with thunderous applause:

“That’s amazing – I’m reading the post right now (as in, 11:28 AM pacific)- and I switched back to the tab, and it doesn’t show the date. But I opened it less than 10 minutes ago. They couldn’t have changed it that real time could they. Hit Refresh. Lo and behold – there is the date.

Now that’s an agile organization. Thanks very much – I really appreciate the date on these posts as well.”

For a comparison, when I wrote my initial response about having meetings and pondering about the change, that comment got 29 upvotes. However, when we made the change and I announced it, that got a full 41. Now that’s some real-time customer appreciation!

We try to move quickly and make the right decisions, unfortunately, that doesn’t always work out, and we have be willing to rollback especially when we’ve accidently made the user experience worse. Our blogs are written for our fans after all, and if they aren’t happy with them, we’re not happy with them. We hope you enjoy having the dates back, and I personally appreciate everyone in the Hacker News comments for helping me win an argument!

Yev

Yev

Chief Smiles Officer at Backblaze
Yev enjoys speed-walking on the beach. Speed-dating. Speed-writing blog posts. The film Speed. Speedy technology. Speedy Gonzales. And Speedos. But mostly technology. He also runs social for Backblaze.

Follow Yev on:
Twitter: @YevP | LinkedIn: Yev Pusin | Google+: Yev Pusin
  • Reactivity

    Thank you! This has been one of my biggest complaints about blogs in general and tech blogs in particular. I had started to think I was the only one frustrated by the lack of dates on information in areas where things become stale quite rapidly.

  • Cameron MacDonald

    Just a heads up for next time, your message can get lost without the right formatting. I had to strain my eyes to read this, and am actually having trouble typing this out because of it. I’ve noticed this with your other blogs as well…is it possible to try a font style that properly contrasts with the white background?

    • Hi Cameron! What browser are you using? Out of curiosity?

  • tedder42

    at least there’s a date in the body. If someone uses the term “evergreen content”, take them behind the datacenter and shoot ’em.

    • We know better now :-/

  • Struggle with the same thing with my webcomic – we have had a few hiatuses so the dates look “bad” even though some of the content is evergreen but we’re going to mute it with design and style so there’s less emphasis.

    • The main pain-point for us was that they were getting included in the URLs, and that just wasn’t great.

  • us0r

    oh come on if you are going to put the date at least do it right. your missing the time!

    • us0r

      (its a joke btw)

      • Don’t scare us like that! That’s another 2 months of back and forth :-p

  • As someone who first read the Backblaze blog (storage pod 1.0!), and then became a customer (2009), and now an employee (since 2012) –– dating the blog posts this way is the right choice for readers.

    I had no idea this was an internal debate :) I would have voiced my opinion – loudly and obnoxiously!

    • Sorry for not including you in the inner-struggles of the marketing department :-p